Unfortunately, without new funding sources to complete the Beltline Trail, we will not realize these benefits. The proposed Special Services District (SSD) would allow the commercial and multi-family properties that have benefited most from proximity to the Beltline to invest in its completion through a small property tax increase. The SSD will raise $100 million for Trail construction and then sunset after achieving that goal. Funding for the many components of the Atlanta Beltline must naturally come from multiple sources, and to finish the Trail, the proposed SSD – working alongside investments from Atlanta’s philanthropic community, the Atlanta Beltline TAD, and other transportation funding sources to reach the $350 million needed – seems to be a good fit.
After looking through the proposal, I think concerns about the SSD’s impact on the affordability of Beltline communities have been reasonably addressed. Houses, townhouses, and condos are excluded, impacts on larger apartment buildings are not onerous, and new programs are designed to assist families living on low or fixed incomes. Additionally, implementation of the Atlanta Beltline comes in context of broader city policy. The One Atlanta: Housing Affordability Action Plan outlines a $1 billion plan to build or preserve affordable housing and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently signed legislation for $50 million in bonds toward that goal. The Department of City Planning’s Atlanta City Design Housing was just released, illustrating the bold zoning reforms needed to support the Action Plan. And, of course, there are dozens of other agency, community, and nonprofit partners across the city working on related initiatives.
That said, there is much work ahead. Realization of the Atlanta Beltline’s broad vision is a massive undertaking that requires a spirit of collective action. It is wildly ambitious and enormously complex, and that’s exactly what makes it so compelling – not only to Atlantans, but to people all over the world. Over the last 20 years, as the story of my graduate thesis has unfolded, the most impressive thing I have learned is that it is possible. It also works. And as the nation struggles for economic recovery, Atlanta is lucky to have an unfinished investment that is known to deliver, and leadership committed to its purpose. It is a worthy and proven investment that will bring the city many returns.
Ryan Gravel’s college thesis created the concept that became the Atlanta Beltline.